Last Updated on October 9, 2023 by Matt Musico
Growing up in the 1990s, I used to love imitating Ken Griffey Jr.‘s swing in my bedroom. Even though I lived on the opposite side of the United States from where he played his home games for the Mariners, it was impossible to not get a glimpse of that sweet swing each morning during SportsCenter. Junior Griffey dominates the single-season Mariners home run leaders list by taking up each of the first five spots.
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Mariners Home Run Leaders: Top 10
Ken Griffey Jr.
Griffey put together four straight years of 48-plus home runs for the Mariners from 1996-99. Hitting around 50 or so a year helped him pass a bunch of milestone home runs quickly, which isn’t surprising at all. It also helped him tie Hack Wilson for a single-season record at his position.
To get the specifics down, here are all of the performances that landed at the top of the leaderboard:
- 56 home runs in 1997 and 1998
- 49 home runs in 1996
- 48 home runs in 1999
- 45 home runs in 1993
Since we haven’t really talked about it just yet, let’s take a peek at that 1993 season because that was the true breakout. And sure, Griffey had already posted three 20-plus homer seasons, two 100-RBI seasons, and was already getting elected to All-Star Games, but they didn’t quite measure to his age-23 campaign.
In addition to winning a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger Award, and heading to the midsummer classic, Griffey also finished fifth in AL MVP voting off the strength of those 45 dingers, 109 RBI, and a .309/.408/.617 line. The young outfielder was good all year, but June, July, and August were his most productive months. Over this 332-plate-appearance sample, he slashed .339/.434/.717 with 29 home runs, 61 RBI, and 65 runs scored, which was all good for a 197 wRC+.
All of these dingers have him atop the Mariners’ career home run leaderboard with a huge lead.
Well, jeez — there’s that man again. After he led the American League in home runs for the Orioles in 2014, Nelson Cruz took his talents to Seattle for a powerful four-year stretch. He never hit fewer than 37 homers in a season for the Mariners. His best performances came in the first two years — he slugged 44 in 2015 and another 43 in 2016.
Let’s look a little closer at that 2015 campaign because those 44 dingers are currently Cruz’s single-season career-high mark. The right-handed slugger hit .302/.369/.566 with all those homers and 93 RBI on the way to winning his first Silver Slugger Award.
He immediately made a good first impression in Seattle because his first month with the organization included 10 homers, 22 RBI, and a 1.096 OPS in 94 plate appearances. From a power perspective, the only month better was August when he slugged 12. After slugging 18 dingers through the end of May, Cruz hit just one in 99 June plate appearances.
So, the fact that he still got himself up over 40 for the second straight year was awfully impressive.
With Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez on the same team, it was hard for any other Mariners player to grab headlines, but Jay Buhner did a pretty good job of that himself. The Louisville, Kentucky native enjoyed eight years of 20-plus homers during his MLB career, but the stretch between 1995 and 1997 was special. Buhner slugged at least 40 homers with 100-plus RBI in each campaign, with 1996 being the pinnacle.
In addition to winning a Gold Glove, the outfielder posted a .926 OPS with 44 home runs and 138 RBI for Seattle. Check out how even his production was across a couple of situations, too.
Buhner slugged 21 homers with 65 RBI at home and 23 homers with 73 RBI on the road. In the first half, he collected 23 homers with 72 RBI, and those numbers were 21 and 66, respectively, in the second half. Baseball, man.
Although he slugged eight first-pitch homers in 1996, Buhner actually hit nine on an 0-1 count, producing a 1.353 OPS in the process.
Before he was busy inserting his name on the Yankees‘ and Rangers‘ single-season leaderboard, Alex Rodriguez was doing it for the Mariners. He did it in consecutive years with Seattle, hitting 42 homers in both 1998 and 1999. Of course, that 1998 season was a little extra special because, with 45 stolen bases, he became the first — and for now, still the only — infielder to register a 40/40 season.
Since we’ve already talked about that season, let’s take a quick look at 1999. Compared to the year he just produced, A-Rod took a bit of a step back (which is a great problem to have when you still slug 40-plus home runs). While his 136 wRC+ was slightly better than the year prior (135), his 4.7 fWAR wasn’t close to what he produced in 1998 (7.9).
When peeking at Rodriguez’s monthly splits, he did the majority of his work in July and August. In just 232 plate appearances, the shortstop slashed .330/.384/.703 with 23 homers, 58 RBI, 46 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases, leading to a 170 wRC+.
Mariners Home Run Leaders: The Rest
This is what the remainder of Seattle’s top-22 most powerful seasons in franchise history looks like:
- Alex Rodriguez, 2000: 41 home runs
- Ken Griffey Jr., 1994: 40
- Jay Buhner, 1995 and 1997: 40
- Robinson Cano, 2016: 39
- Richie Sexson, 2005: 39
- Nelson Cruz, 2017: 39
- Mitch Haniger, 2021: 39
- Bret Boone, 2001: 37
- Edgar Martinez, 2000: 37
- Nelson Cruz, 2018: 37
- Alex Rodriguez, 1996: 36
Check out the Mariners hitters who fall outside of the top 22 on FanGraphs.
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